Out of Mind Brownies

These brownies are baking right now, and my little home smells de-li-cious. Because, um, warm chocolate. On the yummy foods smell scale, that’s right up there with vanilla, pumpkin pie, apples and cloves, cinnamon,..

It’s autumn, people, which means that in my little area on the gulf coast of Florida, the temperature stays below 80 degrees until after 9 am. Woo hoo! I have pumpkin spice latte on the brain, but, yes, brownies in the oven. What can I say? I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle… soon to be wrapped in a lightweight sweater and some super cute boots. Just saying.

One of my good friends turned me onto her trainer and so far that’s going so, so well. I think we all get stuck in our routines, you know. I’d run every.darn.day – and practically do, come to think of it – but our bodies get to a place where what we’re doing just sort of maintains or, worse, wears out. We need to cross train. I’ve mostly relied on yoga and Pilates to mix things up. It’s time for weights, though, and my, clearly far too subtle, hints to that big guy at the gym that “I could use a tip or two on what to do on the machines” fell on deaf ears. To be fair, I’m 5’4″ and he is so much taller than me. I’m never sure that my voice carries all the way up there. He mostly just smiles and waves down at me. Thus, I now have a fantastic trainer who makes me do very hard things in a big ol’ warehouse (read: no air conditioning) but plays really good dance music while I’m doing them. #totallyworthit

So, not dance music, but this song by Tia Gostelow called Out of Mind made it onto my playlist. Digging the mellow beat and the lyrics: “What’s on your mind lately? I know your eyes say things. He is screaming but your mouth is closed.”

You see people like this, too, right? Everything looks normal on the outside, but you can see in their eyes that they’re going through something. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like things are at a heightened state. Full moon was a week or so ago, so that’s not it. Holidays coming? Time change? Season change? I don’t know. Just life, I guess.

I ran into an old friend and the change in him because of what he’s dealing with in his life… you can definitely see it in his eyes. I felt like I didn’t even know him anymore. He’s just different. He even told me this had changed him. And it broke my heart to see him hurt. Never quite know what to say in the moment. In my head, it’s all platitudes. Trite. Redundant?

So often I’ve found that nothing heals like time, and in time, once you’ve decided to let this go, you’ll be okay. I promise. And when your heart is healed, you may not have forgotten the way you feel right now but the pain will not be as acute. You will stop being so angry. You will remember that you once loved this person and that the time you spent with her makes her part of you forever. Because of that – or maybe in spite of it – and because of this – what you’re feeling right now – you will love the next person better than you could have, better than you would have. And even though right now you can’t imagine loving anyone again ever, I promise you this, too: you will.

But I didn’t say any of those things. I saw in his eyes that he wasn’t ready to hear them and by the time he is, he’ll know them. On some level, he already does.

Instead I gave him a very big hug, told him how sorry I am that he’s hurting, and then I baked him some brownies.

Hazelnut Brownies

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted Nutella
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 9 pan with parchment paper
POUR melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar by hand until smooth.
ADD in eggs and vanilla extract. Whisk for one minute.
WHISK in melted Nutella until combined and smooth.
FOLD in in flour, cocoa powder, and salt until just combined.
STIR in chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts.
POUR into prepared pan.
BAKE in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing.

Banana Bread for Naeem

I have one of those faces.

You know or knew someone who looks just.like.me, and when you spot me from across the room, you start to stare: studying my mannerisms, trying to place how and from where you know me.

Because I look like someone you know, you’ll almost feel as though we’re already friends, so if we’re standing in line at the grocery store, in line anywhere really, or sitting in an airport lounge or hanging at a Starbucks, you’ll strike up a conversation with me, telling me all about that person who looks or acts or talks just like me. Or you’ll want to talk about the weather or your kids or just about your day. And I’ll smile and let you, because the attention that used to make me so very uncomfortable when I was younger I now see as a gift.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? How lovely to have someone feel comfortable enough with you to share a part of himself or herself with you. That’s not to say that I don’t get a little jumpy from time-to-time when you folks come in hot. I’m only human. But for the most part I really do love when people look up from their phones long enough to connect with another person in real time and, um,.. in person. How is this becoming a lost art?

Making banana bread today. I found a new recipe that’s not overly ambitious, not even seasonal really, but today I have some overripe bananas and the need to create something. What I didn’t have is enough nuts, so I popped into the local market to pick some up. 

While I was standing in line, the very nice lady behind me asked me if I soaked my grains and nuts before eating them. See what I mean? They’re easier to digest and are more nutritious if you soak them ahead of time, she told me, and will make for a crunchier nut in baking. I’m totally game for all of the above, so this time I did.

Early last month Bon Iver dropped a new album and I’m totally obsessed with the song Naeem. I had the song on repeat for this morning’s run, and through my AirPods, Justin Vernon serenaded me all through this recipe. The line, “All along me, I can hear you” is particularly poignant to me right now as I’ve been thinking more and more about family and friends and how they become such a part of us and we them.

They say we’re each the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time, so it makes sense that we’d want to surround ourselves with the most positive people we can. Those people who challenge me to be better while making me still feel accepted and loved are the ones with whom I try to spend my time and energy.

I’ve had people in my life, though – I think we all have had this – and found that it’s better for them or for me or for both of us that we’re not in each other’s lives. That can be a hard thing to accept, but sometimes the very best way you can love someone is to not be in his or her life. Especially if the relationship isn’t benefitting either of you. Harder still to be the one to make the decision to step away when that’s not what you want. Especially when it’s not what you want. That’s the loneliest form of love, isn’t it?

I fully believe, though, that some people come into your life and their purpose is to teach you something or move you to the next place in your life, to the place you’re meant to be. They’re not supposed to be with you forever. They’re just meant to touch your life or you theirs. It doesn’t mean they’re not wonderful people who bring value to the world. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. It doesn’t mean they’re not significant to you or to your life.

In some ways they are the most.

Banana Bread

2 cups flour (I use equal parts cake and all-purpose flours for quick bread recipes)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown or coconut sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup yogurt or sour cream
2 cups mashed bananas                  
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup chopped pistachios (or any nuts really)

ADJUST the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare your baking tin. I’m old school and smear the sides and bottom with butter and then dust the insides with cake flour. 

WHISK the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.

CREAM the butter and brown sugar together. 

ADD eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

BEAT in the yogurt, mashed bananas, and vanilla extract until combined. 

MIX the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. 

FOLD in the nuts, if using.

SPOON the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 60-65 minutes. After about 30 minutes you’ll want to cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil to avoid scorching the top and sides. 

REMOVE from the oven and allow the bread to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.

COVER and store banana bread at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer (wrapped well) for up to three months.